Flipping the switch: What’s it like changing careers during a pandemic?

Three Northern Nevadans share their story

Peter Picetti stands on the jobsite of a custom home his construction company is building in the Caughlin Ranch area of Reno on Aug. 17, 2021. Picetti, who left his position as an English literature professor at UNR to start his own construction firm, is part of a wave of people who have switched careers during the pandemic.

Peter Picetti stands on the jobsite of a custom home his construction company is building in the Caughlin Ranch area of Reno on Aug. 17, 2021. Picetti, who left his position as an English literature professor at UNR to start his own construction firm, is part of a wave of people who have switched careers during the pandemic. Photo by Kaleb Roedel.

Peter Picetti felt disconnected. It was the spring of 2020, and Picetti, then an English literature professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, was grappling with the challenges of unpacking the plays of William Shakespeare and the poems of Edmund Spenser to a class of students on a videoconference call.

Even before the pandemic, Picetti found his past experiences with online teaching to be ineffective and, consequently, unfulfilling. So when the pandemic shut down the state and closed schools, Picetti knew the spring semester of 2020 was going to be his toughest challenge as an educator.

“I straddle two aspects of English — my focus is Renaissance literature and I have an MFA in poetry — and both of those are very much workshop-type environments,” he said. “You’re work-shopping poetry or you’re work-shopping literature. And that happening in any other space but a physical space was not something that I wanted to be a part of. It just wasn’t really fulfilling anymore.”

Fast-forward 18 months, and Picetti, 33, is standing on a construction site in West Reno instead of in a classroom at UNR. For the last eight months, the former educator-turned-contractor has been running his own business, PF Picetti Construction, which specializes in building custom homes, remodels and small commercial properties in greater Reno-Lake Tahoe.

“It’s kind of odd to make that switch,” Picetti said. “I think a lot of people from academia are like, ‘you’re doing what now?’”

Not that Picetti was without construction experience. A Sacramento native, he started swinging a hammer in high school and has worked part-time seasonal jobs ever since.

Peter Picetti, 33, said when the pandemic turned his routine as a college professor upside down, he realized it was the right time to make a career change to construction. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel / NNBW


Though a skilled laborer, being an English lit professor was what he felt called to do. In 2014, after earning his masters at UMass in Boston, Picetti and his wife, Michaela, moved back west to Reno, where he enrolled in the PhD English Literature program at UNR.

“When you’re a tenure track professor, it’s very much weighted to the research side,” Picetti said. “I love research, but my main passion was the teaching. And as long as I had that, I was good with putting in the crazy hours and late nights (researching).”

Years later, when the pandemic turned Picetti’s routine upside down, he reevaluated whether he wanted to continue a career in academia. The decision, he said, was partly brought on by becoming a new father a few months before the pandemic started.

Once COVID hit, Picetti became challenged by the juggle of changing, soothing and swaddling while grading, researching and teaching from home.

“Every time I was at home, I felt like I should be sitting at the computer writing my next article or writing a paper for a conference,” he said.

After finishing out the spring 2020 semester, Picetti said he “took a step back,” and then shifted his focus to being an entrepreneur.

“It was very much a time to be retrospective,” Picetti said. “It allowed a lot of us, I think, the space to sort of ask those existential questions, and then have practical solutions for some of them.”

Since launching his firm last December, Picetti has kept busy with projects in fast-growing Northern Nevada. He’s currently leading construction of a 5,000-square-foot French-style home in Caughlin Ranch.

“I’m all in now — I want to be the best builder I can possibly be,” he said. “And now, home is home, baby. I drop my toolbelt, and then I’m hanging out with my family.”


Picetti’s story is among countless others across the country and here in Northern Nevada from people who’ve decided it’s time for a change.

In June, 3.9 million Americans quit their job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It nearly matched the unprecedented level in April, when 4 million U.S. workers left their employer, the most recorded by the BLS since it began tracking those rates in December 2000.

After Laura Contreras, 26, was laid off in November, she used it as a chance “to reflect and actually think about what I really wanted to do.” She now works for a digital marketing agency. Courtesy photo


Several factors are driving the turnover. Many people are spurning a return to business as usual, preferring the flexibility of remote work. Some are burned out from extra pandemic workloads and stress. Others are seeking higher pay to keep up with cost-of-living increases or make up for a spouse’s job loss.

More still, like Picetti, used the past year to reconsider their career path and shift gears.

And during a time when millions have lost their jobs, a lot of people had no choice but to change industries.

Take 26-year-old Laura Contreras. She had been working in the music and entertainment sector for a Reno-based company that made security credentials such as backstage passes, wristbands and lanyards for music festivals, sporting events and conferences.

After the pandemic prompted sweeping cancellations of events, the company laid off half its staff and cut the rest down to part-time. Contreras, who was the company’s social media marketing specialist, was eventually laid off in November 2020. She took the time off as an opportunity to recalibrate her career goals.

“I had never had this time to reflect and actually think about what I really wanted to do,” Contreras said. “So, it was kind of a blessing in disguise to have that time and think, what’s the right move for me and do research on a company that has a great culture, and make sure it’s somewhere I truly feel like I’m going to fit in and I’m going to grow.”

Contreras, after months of job searching and applying, found that in OCG Creative, a digital marketing agency in Reno. In February, she was hired on as a field strategist, and now has a wide range of clients, from law firms to insurance agencies to fashion boutiques.

The job change, she said, has boosted her income. More importantly, though, it has made her feel more satisfied and optimistic about her career.

“It feels nice to fully work in the marketing environment, and get to learn and grow within that industry,” she said. “To have a management team that validates you and makes you feel appreciated, I am definitely more fulfilled now.”


Other Northern Nevadans saw new job opportunities pop up during the pandemic that they couldn’t pass up.

Alana Ridge, 26, left her job at an advertising/marketing agency when the opportunity to head up a construction company’s marketing and communications unexpectedly came about. Courtesy Photo


One of those people is Alana Ridge, who was in her second year with the Abbi Agency, a Reno-based advertising/marketing firm. While Ridge did public relations work for clients across many industries, COVID spurred an increase in demand from construction and real estate development companies.

“During the pandemic, those were the clients that really stuck, because the work didn’t stop, they were still working,” Ridge, 26, said. “And I found that I really loved doing construction and real estate PR, because everything’s constantly growing — there are so many new developments. And being so involved in my own community in that way, it was just incredible.”

Enjoying her work and coworkers, Ridge said she wasn’t looking to leave her job. During the pandemic, in August 2020, she was promoted from an account coordinator to junior account executive. She didn’t get around to updating her resumé on LinkedIn until last March — and that update caught the eye of a recruiter from a local construction company.

United Construction’s talent acquisition manager contacted Ridge about their open marketing and communications manager position, which needed to be filled after the person in that role retired.

“She said was combing through LinkedIn resumés to see who would be a good fit,” Ridge recalled. “And she said, ‘Yours came up — would you be interested?’”

It was the kind of opportunity Ridge didn’t expect — not yet, at least. The job prospect of being a marketing manager at a construction company forced her to ruminate on questions like “what do you really want out of your future, career and life?” she said.

“And something I’ve really wanted,” she added, “is creative freedom and work freedom.”

United Construction’s marketing and communications manager is a one-person department. Meaning, Ridge would have exactly that if she chose to change jobs.

What’s more, she would be fully entrenched in the industry she was most drawn to: construction. When the job offer from United Construction came, Ridge said, though a tough decision, she couldn’t let the opportunity pass her by.

“It was the kind of offer I couldn’t refuse,” Ridge said. “It was essentially a two-to-three step promotion from where I was. And I thought, how exciting it would be to work for a construction company that’s in the middle of all of our region’s growth, and that’s really involved in the industrial and warehouse space and therefore helping to create jobs for people.

“That’s what prompted the change — to be in a specific industry that I grew to love.”


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